Letter To Michael Matthias

Dear Michael,

I am sure your Aviation Committee will apprise you of the Burien resolution, but just in case here ya go (Item 13):


I think of the airport as a factory. And I think of our houses as being like homes with those small oil wells on the back lot which are so common in home in the Midwest. The Port Of Seattle profits from the use of our air and so we should be having regular and ongoing negotiations with them for the use thereof. If I seem ‘acidic’ in tone [at council meetings], please understand I have a very heavy lift. I’m trying to get your government (and the Port and most residents, by the way) to completely re-think the relationship: one in which negotiation for the use of our sky is done as with any other natural resource.

When I first started talking about this two years ago people looked at me like I was nuts. Negotiate air rights? With the Port? Everyone seems programmed to do everything wrt the Port in court and even then only in reaction to their 10-15 year construction project cycles. *This just seems ridiculous to me. As an example, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have been negotiating for for various mitigations all along [even after the Third Runway]. We haven’t even asked.

SAMP Appeals and Part 150 studies are all very well, but instead of only trying to hit home runs (and usually striking out) we should also be hitting singles and doubles every year–as SeaTac does with their parking money. Even if the DNL65 never moved another inch we should be getting at least a million or two a year under the existing rules—which the Port is not following RIGHT NOW.

Having at least one person in place who maintains a continuity of knowledge saves money on consultants. It also tends to get details that consultants who parachute in will miss (I know, I was one of those consultants.) Through negotiation and grant writing it would allow us to obtain a small but steady stream of revenue of mitigation money from the PoS and EPA. We can then leverage that into building a coalition with the other cities and begin to chip away at the Port’s stranglehold on our area–which as you rightly put is as much economic as it is legal. But we have to have some successes in order to get the other cities behind us. Des Moines has to lead. The other cities will not for various economic and political reasons. Only DM has the right combination of incentives to take this on.

But to do so Des Moines has to be willing to tell a comprehensible and compelling media story. I don’t know if your government is willing to do that. Frankly, you guys don’t seem to take this all that seriously. All too often I have heard your council mouthing the Port’s own talking points as to the economic benefits of the Port. All the media people I’ve talked to refuse to cover this story more than just a one-off because they see (correctly in my view) that -none- of the airport communities want to go public with their unhappiness. You guys may bellyache in private, but in public? All you want to talk about is how “We’re moving forward!” So the media just shrugs. ie. If Matt Pina thinks everything is fine, then, hey, it must be all good in Des Moines.

That is my beef with your government. You all want your cake and to eat it too. You want to be able to tell this great PR story of “Des Moines moving forward!” but somehow ‘handle’ this ‘impact’ problem in various private ‘meetings’ with as little fuss as possible. Unfortunately, the Quiet Skies crew only exacerbate this situation by refusing to criticize your council and push them to take action. First off, because this is truth that your council needs to hear. And second because appearing to be working together so tightly on so many committees with Quiet Skies, it gives your council an imprimatur it does not deserve. (How many times have I heard Vic Pennington comment from the dais about how proud he is that the city is partnering with Quiet Skies!) Ironically, all you guys have done is shot yourself in the foot by giving skeptics (including the media and the Port!) ammunition to say that the problem is really not as bad as all that and that people who complain are just ‘tin foil hats’.

You can’t have it both ways. To prevail against the Port, you have to have a clear media message that conveys not only the potential of Des Moines, but also the real threat posed by the airport. You have to go public and you have to go loud. You have to tell people how much this place means to all of us but also what is at stake for residents and the environment if we aren’t steadfast in our defense. That is why I have discouraged the city from taking economic development grants from the Port. There should not be even the appearance– of influence. And besides, those grants are absolutely nothing– compared to the damage that the airport does to this city.

My partners and I do quite a bit of research on the topics we discussed today. I hope I gave you at least one or two ideas worth chewing on. Let me know if you need technical details on anything we discussed.



PS: If possible, I would highly recommend that you and/or members of the DM City Council audit one of the BAC meetings–and other cities’ Aviation Committee meetings as well, of course. Whenever possible all these groups should be working together as a unit. (Is the sky significantly different over Federal Way? Burien? Not so much.)

*In fact, as we’ve discussed before, we believe that the Port Of Seattle absolutely loves only having to negotiate with cities every ten or fifteen years and only in response to specific construction projects.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *